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Daily Dose of Darkness #4: Over a Barrel (The Opening Scene of Dark Passage)


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Would agree with  the it does remind some people of LADY OF THE LAKE  (1947) with Robert Montgomery in the Directors chair.   DARK PASSAGE opening sends a message especially the "spinning barrel" pov  that this is a world upside down and out of control that suddenly stops at  destination.  On gets lots of "whirlpool": effects in Noir pictures for various reason.  The pov actually changes as if you were sitting on the back of the truck  watching the barrel then shifts to first person for the tumble then back to being an observer as  you the back of the convict running.  The next shift is back to first person with the hands on the fence, swish pan looking for a lift on the road..  Pretty cool stuff in the car and  the fight plus the car stopping at just the right point to see a highway sign with San Quentin/ San Francisco in background.  You get desperation, chracter introduction and location all in an interesting gritty way.    LADY OF THE LAKE was more subtle in its use as it is a full feature.

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The use of first person POV is very successful, you get to feel Vincent's every move. You almost feel like you are him with the way the director has the camera acting like its him. The tension is palpable, having first person POV makes you fell like you could cut the tension with a knife. While Vincent was in the car with the guy you felt so worried that the police were going to get you, and with the guy asking a bunch of questions, it makes you feel so on edge. This opening scene is so important because it really sets you up for what is about to happen. As said in the Curator's note first person POV wasn't used much, but boy when it was and done well it was worth it.

When the main character you are supposed to sympathize with is "guilty" enough to go to jail, a clever way to get you to identify with him is to take on his face since he doesn't have one yet. You absolutely do feel like you are about to get caught with him. Really clever.

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I never was a big fan of the first-person POV in cinema. I prefer to be a spectator when watching a movie, not a participant. :) However, it served as good vehicle for not immediately revealing the identity of the protagonist to the audience.

 

The convention of "The Jailbreak" in film noir: The distant wailing sirens; The desperate escapee fording rivers or streams; The shedding of the prison uniform... This has been done to death where it is almost a joke. The "barrel roll" was a nice variation though!

 

No matter how many times I see it, I am still amazed that people in movies actually stop to pick up hitchhikers along the highway who turn out to be escaped convicts!

 

Well the guy that picks the escaped convict up was an ex-convict that had been housed at San Quentin twice.   This might make him less afraid of hitchhikers.    (of course why he didn't recognize the shoes and pants which I assume where government issued doesn't add up).

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One of the big things noir films are known for is stark angles, giving a cool, other-worldly comic book look to the story. "Dark Passage" successfully achieves this by making you think it'll play like normal from the get-go (The fingers out of the barrel; Vincent walking out and away from the barrel), but then turns on it's head by forcing the audience to not only be in the situation with Vincent, but by making us become Vincent. At that point, WE are running from The police and knocking out strangers. Much like "The Letter", it is unclear what's behind the main character's criminal origins.

One other big contribution is the use of the narrator: this is the first noir film on this list to give us a narrator through our main character Vincent. This will become an almost guaranteed staple later on in the genre.

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The protagonist's POV can be a gimmick, but in this case it's a clever way of disguising what will be his changed face, and introducing the importance of his face by not revealing it to us. 

 

Using this POV right away immediately has us side with him as well. We are put in the position of someone hiding, trying not to be seen, and running away. By the time we see the police motorcycles, we don't want him to be caught. We know he's an escaped convict, and yet we are naturally, and literally, drawn to his point of view.

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The use of POV added mystery to the main character and kept his appearance unknown (aside from the police radio description of him). In this sense, the POV is successful. However, in terms of editing, I found the POV very awkward and disjointed at times. There were cuts that seemed out of place. Perhaps it was too difficult to achieve at the time, I'm not sure, but I think the scene would have been stronger as one long take.

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Was anyone else reminded of the Bourne movies? Shots that follow the characters around their world, jumping from one bit of information to the next? A barrel, a hill to get away from the truck, get out of there as quickly as possible, ditch the shirt to throw them off, and 15 minutes to solve your next problem in? Both movies really succeed in keeping our focus on exactly what is in front of us and boil away the rest of the world.

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The hands are very unique. I can't remember another film where the whole person, if there is a person, is not featured in the opening scene. It really makes an impression. You wonder who the hands belong to. The sign "San Quentin" on the barrel tells you right away that the film is a  convict film, but the hands suggests that it may be a very different convict film; or will it be just another run of the mill convict film? Where is the girl?

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At first, I didn't like the pov, it seem disorienting and distracting. Maybe it the movement of the camera and the technology, not really sure. Then it kind of steadied out and I thought "Oh, this is really unique and I like it." Then, the fight happened and it took a horrible turn for the rest. I think the pov was very limiting to the scene, everything seemed so constrained and tight. You can really tell that they were having problems with movement. It seemed also natural but oddly timed. Trying too hard is the phrase that comes to mind. A positive, I did enjoy the feeling of being "in on the secret", I became connected to the character very quickly. I was on his side in the first minute, because I was the character. I'll probably finish the rest of this movie. As I'm typing this, I realize I am now extremely invested in this story.

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I have to agree with those who think the POV worked much better in Lady in the Lake. Although it's always wonderful to see Bogart and Bacall together, I have to say I think Dark Passage is one of the most ridiculous "noirs" ever made. From the hokey POV start, to Agnes Moorehead's bizarre fall out the window - It's just a nutty film. But things I love in it are: the creepy plastic surgeon, the final meeting in the nightclub and of course, that fabulous glass elevator.

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DARK PASSAGE:

Another one of my favorite stars: Humphrey Bogart.

 It stars off with a man in a 55 gallon drum and he is obviously an escaped convict.  The barrel has “San Quentin” stenciled on the top and we hear the sirens of the police car attempting to catch up with the truck.  The barrel is rocked back and forth till it falls from the truck.  It tumble down the hill.  We watch from the inside of the barrel as he crawls out and stumbles to a stream that is flowing under a bridge.  He takes off his shirt and hides it in the bushes so that his shirt will not give him away as a convict.  Again, not a lot of cuts just the amounted needed to move the story along and show the different aspects.  He begins to talk to himself (actually to us) and talks about how much time he has till the police return to look for him.  He figures that he as 15 minutes to get out of there.  We watch as the police on the motor cycles rush down the road and over the bridge.  Once gone, he emerges from hiding and takes a chance by flagging down a car to hitch a ride.  He figures he can get out of there with no hassle.  The driver checks the guy out.  He notices his pants and shoes and other identifiable aspects of what the man is wearing.   The driver is curious and begins asking too many questions.  Way too many questions.  Bogey starts to get annoyed and tells him he wants to get out.  As the driver is slowing down, the radio begins to talk about a prison break and begins to describe the escapee.  The driver stops, behind him is a sing that points to San Quentin and San Fransisco (where he came from and where he is going).  The drive now know who the stranger is and Bogey knows that the jig is up.  Bogey beats the guy up and steals his car so he can continue his journey to San Francisco.  Why is he going back?  What happened there?  Is he going or revenge or some other reason?

 

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I have to agree with those who think the POV worked much better in Lady in the Lake. Although it's always wonderful to see Bogart and Bacall together, I have to say I think Dark Passage is one of the most ridiculous "noirs" ever made. From the hokey POV start, to Agnes Moorehead's bizarre fall out the window - It's just a nutty film. But things I love in it are: the creepy plastic surgeon, the final meeting in the nightclub and of course, that fabulous glass elevator.

 

The best thing about the movie are the odd characters; the cab driver,  the creepy surgeon, his friend George and the blackmailer.

 

As for Agnes;  are you saying she was a little over the top?   Not Agnes!    (well she went to the Welles school of acting).

 

But really I find her to be a treat but it is borderline camp.      As for her falling out the window;  I assume she jumped out and committed suicide.     This was her final way of saying 'you won't have me to help prove your innocent'.    Man she really hated Vincent. 

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Again, similar to how shocking The Letter may have been to moviegoers in 1940, I wonder how this felt to those watching brand new in 1947. This POV shot now in 2015 felt tacky but at the same time immediately had me invested. I enjoyed the shot once the barrel stopped rolling and you watch Bogart stumble out - but the camera doesn't follow. It quickly reverts back to POV and, while it was fun for the opening shot, I'm glad it wasn't a technique other noirs readily adopted.

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I'm usually not a fan of first person POV, but this sequence really takes you into the mind of Vincent Party. We see what he sees and try too figure out which direction he should head in to escape. The scene in the car is really fantastic because we see they realization of the driver comes to as the description of the escaped convict is coming over the radio. The fear that evolves over his face I can almost feel.

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-- Do you feel this film's use of first person POV in this scene was successful or not successful?

 

The use of POV is definitely successful, and decidedly rare, back in the 1940s, probably the kind of scene that moviegoers talked about a great deal, sparking interest in the movie, itself.

 

The randomness of the barrel's tumble drives home the idea that, for all the bravado of escaping from the prison, it can all end in disaster. if it falls the wrong way. It does not, of course, as this is only the beginning of the story. And so, disaster averted (for the time being), this POV scene with Humphrey Bogart puts us in his shoes, giving some of us the guilty pleasure of rooting for him to succeed with his escape.

 

-- How do you think the use of a first person POV added to the tension of this scene?

 

Again, having been placed in the position of almost an accomplice to Bogart's character, one senses the tension in the line of questioning from the motorist; this is actually enhanced because we don't see Bogart and can't see if he's tense or nervous (as cool as his answers are), so we almost substitute ourselves for him in this scene

 

 

-- In what ways can the opening of Dark Passage be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

I think the POV aspect of this scene, with its immersive impact on the viewer, can be considered an important contribution to the film noir style, Of course, film noir style is always going to have elements of tension, as a complex story of suspense, melodrama, and confrontation is always going to unfold. However, the beginning is not always going to be as animated with action from the get-go; contrast this with The Letter, the first two minutes of which appear to be placid enough, until Bette Davis comes onto the porch; here, we see, right away, a barrel labeled San Quentin and sirens blaring. Moreover, there is this POV angle which makes the viewer feel as though he, too, is in some kind of trouble, and it is also important to the development of the story, which is intended to be focused very personally on Bogart's character, Parry, for the rest of the movie.

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I love the use of first person POV that appears in some films noir.  We feel the dizziness of the barrel.  We experience difficulty in focusing our sight on one point when there are so many different places to be aware of.

We don't see the escapee's face.  It adds to the suspense of the car scene.  Who is this hitchhiker?  What are his thoughts and reactions to what the driver is saying?  This lack of face is the "Unknown" - an important element of film noir.  

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The final Daily Dose of the week was the film I was most anticipating. I hadn't managed to see Dark Passage before, and with Bogie and Bacall and fantastic and underrated director Delmer Daves at the helm, I was sure this would be an excellent film.

 

It did not disappoint.

 

While I'm sure some people would find the POV cheesy or dated, I found it fun and very effective. Of course it immerses you in the action, it puts you right alongside for the prison escape, the incident with the driver, and the makes the mysterious woman who comes to his rescue all the more mysterious, especially with his inner monologue over the scene. It's all very immersive.

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I think that the P.O.V. perspective was a great conceit for its time. It was definitely stylistic - maybe to the point of overkill every time he looked down at his shoes? For the late 1940s, I can only imagine how this must have made audiences used to more traditional cinematography feel psychologically unsettled, as they were experiencing the physical attack on an innocent man begging for mercy from the point of view of a murderous criminal. Having never seen the full movie, I can't speak to Bogart's character fully, but it is an engaging "hook" for audiences for sure!

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In this instance I like the POV effect.  The barrel was an interesting effect and got my attention instantly!  Even though I knew whose voice it was, I was anxious to see his face.  

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The POV shot of Dark Passage was an inventive way to not show Bogart's face until after his plastic surgery. This was a better option than bad makeup or casting two actors for the same role. With this method we get Bogart for the whole movie, and it puts the audience into Bogart's head. We see what he sees, and we hear his thoughts. When he attacks the driver, we get a feeling that it is us who is throwing the punches. 

 

The audience for this movie is mostly law-abiding citizens, innocent people. Bogart's character, Vincent Parry, is similarly an innocent person. However, he is put into a situation where he is convicted of a crime and then escapes the prison. This is the same experience that the audience has with the POV shot. We are innocent people forced into the experiences of a wanted man. We are forced to consider what we would do if we were in Parry's shoes. Would we attack the driver? Would we escape from the prison in the first place?

 

However, sometimes experimental techniques are less than perfect. For example, when Bogart is in the car, he turns his head just after the driver asks, "Where'd you get them pants?" We see what looks like a cross-fade. Cross-fades normally indicate a passage of time, but here it seems as no time has passed. This is just the next moment of the conversation. This is probably to hide a flaw. With a POV shot they couldn't make a cut without creating a jump cut, or jumping out of the POV. However, there was some problem that forced this cross-fade; a forgotten line for instance. This suggests that POV is better served in a limited fashion. The best example I can think of is the numerous POV shots in Silence of the Lambs.

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I have to agree with those who think the POV worked much better in Lady in the Lake. Although it's always wonderful to see Bogart and Bacall together, I have to say I think Dark Passage is one of the most ridiculous "noirs" ever made. From the hokey POV start, to Agnes Moorehead's bizarre fall out the window - It's just a nutty film. But things I love in it are: the creepy plastic surgeon, the final meeting in the nightclub and of course, that fabulous glass elevator.

 

I agree with you about the POV working better in Lady in the Lake. Although I can understand the usefulness of having it for a good chunk of the film (until after we see the big reveal of Humphrey Bogart's character having plastic surgery), it just doesn't add an element of mystery or suspense for me. I know who it is -- it is not a surprise. WIth Lady in the Lake, you really felt like you were in Marlowe's shoes, blows to the head and all. 

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I don't remember having seen first-person POV in a movie before, so I was pleased to watch this opening clip from Dark Passage. I liked its use as a new way to open a film, and it let me get inside the mind of an alleged criminal.

 

I have not seen this film, so I would be interested in seeing the entire movie, to see how it all comes together.

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I think the POV was absolutely successful. I love being in the character's place, it gives you different view of the story and makes it a lot more intense. I think this contributed to Noir because not a lot of movies were doing POV at the time and this opened the doors.

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